The Briar Book of the Dead is a novel of witches, family legacies and terrible secrets
by Australian author AG Slatter.

Slatter has an incredible talent for detailed and immersive worldbuilding, and The Briar Book of the Dead—the third full-length novel set in her Sourdough universe— expands greatly upon the lore and landscapes set out in the other books that can all be read as standalone stories too.

The protagonist, Ellie Briar, is the only non-magical witch to be born into her family for 300 years—until a power unexpectedly awakes in her. Suddenly, she’s able to see and speak to the dead. But her great ancestor Gilly Briar, a powerful witch who fled to Silverton and established her legacy there three centuries ago, banished all ghosts, as everyone knows.

The more Ellie learns about her family—members have kept the residents of Silverton educated and nurtured for so long—the more she learns that all is not as it seems, and that Briars have gone as far as murder to uphold their safety and many secrets.

The story uses the town of Silverton, the Briars and the persecution of witches to explore themes of family legacies and trauma, the dangers and necessities of secretkeeping, and how to break the patterns of the past and move towards the future’s glow.

As with her other novels, Slatter weaves fragments of fairytales across the story— cautionary tales passed down generations of Briar women. This book is brilliant. It weaves together layers of plot, character and overarching themes into a seamless whole, set in the rich, bustling town of Silverton—so real and full of life, one can imagine its inhabitants going about their days long after the final page.

If you love books that take you deep inside them, right into the heart of a world not entirely unlike our own, then The Briar Book of the Dead will keep you reading till dawn.

This review first appeared in Aurealis magazine, issue #169.

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